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Small Michigan town may recall entire township board for partnering with Chinese company
Composite screenshot of Green Charter Township website and @Th_Midwesterner Twitter video

Small Michigan town may recall entire township board for partnering with Chinese company

Some outraged residents of a small town in Michigan have officially filed paperwork to initiate recall efforts against their entire township governing board after the board recently agreed to partner with a Chinese company.

More than two years ago, in December 2020, members of the Green Charter Township Board agreed to a $2 billion deal with Gotion, Inc., a Chinese company that manufactures batteries for electric vehicles. Gotion, which is headquartered in Silicon Valley but has a parent company in China, promised to bring about 2,300 jobs to Mecosta County.

Mecosta County, located about an hour north of Grand Rapids, is in a rural area of the state where nearly 10% of residents live below the poverty line. Thus, some in the community were enticed by the prospect of a local manufacturing plant and thousands of high-paying jobs.

Many, however, were not. In fact, so many area residents have been so frustrated by the pending partnership with Gotion that earlier this month, the township board had to move its meeting outdoors since its meeting room could not accommodate all of those in attendance. Those opposed to Gotion have two major concerns: Gotion's affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party and the potential risks to the environment and military integrity that the plant might pose.

One clause in Gotion's corporate documents is particularly unsettling to many residents. "The company shall set up a party organization and carry out party activities in accordance with the constitution of the Communist Party of China," one Gotion document read. "The company shall ensure necessary conditions for carrying out party activities."

However, Gotion representatives have suggested that the hype about that clause has been overblown. "Has the Communist Party penetrated this company? No," said Chuck Thelen, vice president of Gotion's North American operations. "Do we have articles of incorporation that require a specific paragraph or you don’t do business in the country of China? Yes, but it’s not a corporate culture."

"Despite what any current politicians may say," Thelen stated at a public informational meeting on April 5, "there is no communist plot within Gotion to make [Green Charter and the surrounding area] a center to spread communism."

Many residents remain unconvinced. "China is our number one enemy!" one man yelled at a recent meeting. "My family members fought communism, and you’re bringing it right here," another resident added.

Still others believe that toxic waste from the plant will harm the local environment. "I don’t want our rivers to be polluted," said Dick Clark, 64, of a neighboring township. "I don’t want our air to be polluted. This is beautiful country. I don’t want it torn down." Chris Ward, 49, of Green Charter claimed she worries about "the effects on the environment, the water, and the politics of it all."

Indeed, politics appear to play a large role in bringing Gotion to rural Michigan. Gotion representatives reportedly approached Green Charter Trustee Dale Jernstadt and offered to buy some of his family's property for construction of the facility. Jernstadt has not revealed whether he has accepted the offer, though he has abstained on votes related to the Gotion project.

Other residents have also reportedly been approached about selling their land to Gotion. In some cases, they were offered two to three times their land's market value and were given just a few hours to decide whether to sell. The number of residents who have sold property to Gotion is unclear since those who sell are also bound by a nondisclosure agreement.

In addition to Chinese land seizures and environmental concerns, many opponents of the partnership have also noted that Camp Grayling, where members of the Michigan National Guard help train members of the Taiwanese military, is just 100 miles from the proposed location of the Gotion plant. That proximity may pose a risk to the security of the United States and its allies, they say.

Regardless of motive, many residents are angered that a CCP-affiliated company may soon purchase a significant portion of the area's farmland to build a plant that may harm community and environmental health. They are so angry that they've begun the process of possibly recalling those who signed off on partnering with Gotion.

On Friday, the necessary paperwork was filed with Mecosta County to recall all seven members of the Green Charter elected leadership: Trustees James Peek, Gary Todd, Dale Jernstadt, and Roger Carroll; Clerk Janet Clark; Treasurer Denise MacFarlane; and Supervisor James Chapman. Within the next three weeks, the county must hold a meeting to approve the "accuracy" of the language used on the recall petitions. If the petitions pass muster, organizers may begin collecting signatures in the hopes of forcing a recall vote for all seven elected leaders.

In the last few months, dialogue between Green Charter board members and residents has become increasingly tense. Supervisor Chapman recently snapped at a man who simply wanted to ask a "quick question" at a meeting, and Trustee Jernstadt may have called an angry female resident a "b****" under his breath during another heated moment. Clips of those exchanges can be seen in the Twitter videos below:

Other officials have claimed that the recall efforts are astroturf campaigns initiated by paid agitators. Jerrilynn Strong, the chair of the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners, claimed that "professional picketers" were trying to derail "a great opportunity for the people in Mecosta County and the surrounding area."

Another resident apologized to the board for all the negative comments from his neighbors. "I will take that my minutes just to say I am really sorry that you guys have to sit up here tonight and have your integrity impugned and be called names," said Dominic Pace. "... I want to thank you for following the law and not what the people’s opinion might be."

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